Biometrics: How do they work? Are they safe?

Authored by a Symantec employee


Biometrics are part of the cutting edge of technology. Put simply, biometrics are any metrics related to human features. Fingerprinting is a very early and simple version of biometrics, like when you login to your phone using your fingerprint. As with any emerging technology, the first question you should ask is if they are safe.

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How Do Biometrics Work?

If you’ve ever put your fingerprint into an device, you have a vague idea of how biometrics work. Basically, you record your biometric information, in this case a fingerprint. The information is then stored, to be accessed later for comparison with “live” information. Anyone else in the world can put their finger on you device’s touch circle and it’s not going to open your phone.

Fingerprints are just one form of biometrics. One of the emerging forms of biometric technology that you might have seen in science fiction movies is eye scanning. In movies, this is usually the retina, but in the real world, it tends to be the iris. Handwriting, voiceprints and even the geometry of your veins are other biometrics that are uniquely yours and useful for security.

A biometric system consists of three different components:

  • Sensor: This is what records your information, as well as reads it when your biometric information needs to be recognized.
  • Computer: Whether you’re using your biometric information to access a computer or something else, there has to be a computer storing the information for comparison.
  • Software: The software is basically whatever connects the computer hardware to the sensor.

Are Biometrics Safe?

As you’ve probably gathered, there are some pretty serious privacy concerns when it comes to biometrics. The major issues currently identified with biometrics include:

  • Every collection of data might get hacked. The higher the profile the data, the greater a target it is. The good news is that higher profile data tends to be secured on a much stronger level. However, as biometrics become more common, your biometric information is going to be available in more and more places.
  • Some experts fear that if biometrics become too commonplace that people can become complacent. They might not use the kind of common-sense security measures that they use today because they think that biometrics will solve all of their security problems.
  • The data stored in a biometric database is far more intimate and personal than any other kind of data. You can change passwords. You can’t change your fingerprint or iris scan. This means that once your biometric data has been compromised, there might be no going back.

How to Protect Your Biometric Data

Still, there are some common-sense security measures you can make to ensure that your biometric data is relatively safe:

  • Strong passwords mean that it’s harder to steal your data by simply cracking your password. Keeping your biometric information in only a few, limited places gives hackers fewer places to breach your data.
  • Your data is only ever as secure as the weakest link in the chain. This underscores the necessity of securing all your devices, not just your main computer.
  • The best way to secure your devices is to keep your software current. Most important among your software is your operating system and Internet security suite.

Biometric data will make the world more secure and more convenient. If you follow common-sense guidelines for security, you should have almost nothing to worry about.

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